History

The Armenian civilization had its beginnings nearly 5,000 years ago. The original Armenian name for the country was Hayk, later Hayastan, translated as the land of Hayk. Hayk was legendary forefather of armenians famous for his battles with Babylonian ruler Bel. Now days Armenians call themselves Hay and their country-Hayk or Hayastan, in honor of Hayk. The name Armenia was given to the country by the surrounding states, and it is traditionally derived from Armenak or Aram (the great-grandson of Hayk’s great-grandson).

064 Roman annexation of Armenia & client states before Roman-Parthian War 50 AD Map

In the 6th century B.C. Armenians settled in the Kingdom of Urarty (the Assyrian name for Ararat), which was in decline. Under Tigran the Great (95-55B.C.) the Armenian empire reached its height and became one of the most powerful in Asia, stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. In the 1st century AD a Parthian-Roman treaty installed the Arshakuni dynasty as rulers of Armenia, the Arshakuni dynasty fell to the Sassanids in the early 3th century. The Roman Empire restored the Arshakunis to power, crowning Tiridates III as King of Armenia. Tiridates converted to Christianity in the early 4th century and established a state church. In 301, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The first Catholicos of the Armenian Church was Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Because of his beliefs, he was persecuted by the pagan king of Armenia, and was punished by being thrown in Khor Virap, in modern-day Armenia. He acquired the title of Illuminator, because he illuminated the spirits of Armenians by introducing Christianity to them. In 405/406, Armenia’s political future seemed to be uncertain. With the help of the King of Armenia Vramshapuh, Mesrop Mashtots invented a unique alphabet to suit the people’s needs. By doing so, he ushered a new Golden Age and strengthened the Armenian national identity and belongingness. After years of partial rule, the Arshakuni dynasty fell in 428, with Eastern Armenia being subjugated to Persia and Western Armenia, to Rome.  In the 5th century, the Sassanid Shah Yazdegerd II tried to tie his Christian Armenian subjects more closely to the Sassanid Empire by imposing the Zoroastrian religion. The Armenians greatly resented this, and as a result, a rebellion broke out with Vardan Mamikonyan as the leader of the rebels. Yazdegerd thus massed his army and sent it to Armenia, where the Battle of Avarayr took place in 451. The 66,000 Armenian rebels, mostly peasants, lost their morale when Mamikonyan himself died in the battlefield. They were substantially outnumbered by the 18.000–220.000-strong Persian army of Immortals and war elephants. None of the sides won the battle. But Armenians had psychological victory. Eventually all these resulted in the Treaty of Nvarsak (484), which guaranteed religious freedom of Armenians. Over the centuries Armenia was conquered by Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and Russian. From the 17th century through World War I major portions of Armenia were controlled by their most brutal invader, the Ottoman Turks, under whom they experienced discrimination, religious persecution, heavy taxation, and armed attacks. In response to Armenian nationalist stirrings, the Turks massacred thousands of Armenians in 1894 and 1896. The most horrific massacre known as Armenian Genocide took place in April 1915 during World War I, when the Turks ordered the deportation of the Armenian population to the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. According to the majority of historians, about 1.5 million Armenians were murdered or died of starvation. The Armenian massacre is considered the first genocide in the 20th century. Turkey denies that the genocide took place, and claims that a much smaller number died in a civil war. After the Turkey defeat in World War I, the independent Republic of Armenia was established on May 28, 1918, but survived only until Nov. 29, 1920, when it was annexed by the Soviet Army. On March 12, 1922, the Soviets joined Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic, which became part of the USSR. In 1936, after reorganization, Armenia became a separate constituent republic of the USSR. Since 1988, Armenia has been involved in a territorial dispute with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno – Karabakh, to which both lay claim. Also in 1988, a devastating earthquake killed thousands and wreaked, economic havoc. Armenia declared its independence form the collapsing Soviet Union on Sept 21, 1991. In the years that followed, Armenia successfully fought Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno – Karabakh. The 95 percent populations of the enclave are Armenian Christians who want to become independent from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. A cease-fire agreement was reached between the two countries in 1994, but the fate of Nagorno – Karabakh remains unresolved. Nagorno Karabakh Republic is de facto Independent country now.